Braga make Europa final
Sporting Braga defeated Benfica 1-0 on the night to win their Europa League semi-final on away goals and reach their first European final.
With the first leg ending 2-1 to Benfica, centre-back Custodio headed home the decisive goal on 18 minutes from a corner, and the unfancied underdogs of the final four saw out the remainder of the game to defeat their fellow countrymen and advance to meet another domestic rival.
And Domingos Paciencia’s heroes, currently 4th placed in the Primiera Liga back home, must overcome the nation’s champions elect after edging out the guaranteed league runners up in a thrilling finale.
Victory in less than two weeks would ensure Braga pick up only their second major silverware in their history, and their first since a Portuguese Cup win back in 1966.
Knowing that a win was a must to make their first ever European final, Braga started bright and showed their intent as early as the 10 minute mark.
However, the visitors looked more likely to score with their less frequent jaunts into their opponents’ final third, and Carlos Martins almost deceived Artur Moraes in goal with a cross which turned into a deadly shot from a free-kick out on the left.
The towering Luisao was impressive in the slide challenge to prevent Ze Meyong from racing free on the wing, but from the corner came the opening goal.
Defender Custodio powerfully headed home the goal Braga so badly needed in 18 minutes at the far post, and suddenly the tie had turned on its head.
And the home side almost doubled their lead on the half hour mark from another set piece, this time a free-kick near the right-hand corner which Hugo Viana cleverly cut back for Silvio to put just beyond the far post with Roberto in goal at full stretch.
Despite the performance and stubborn shape of their opponents, Benfica were far from out of the tie and could easily have swung the pendulum back in their favour four minutes before the break.
Javier Saviola received a short ball inside the box from strike partner Oscar Cardozo and his first-time poke towards goal rebounded back off the upright.
Cardozo and Saviola both came close to serious chances to equalise either side of the interval, but midfield playmaker Mossoro put himself in a similar nearly-situation after doing his best impression of Lionel Messi to slink his way into the box before being dispossessed.
Artur pulled off his fair share of heroics to keep the home side in front on the night, though his challenge in a 50-50 to deny Fabio Coentrao was a split second away from a penalty decision by match official Martin Atkinson.
Both keepers continued their fine performances by denying Nicolas Gaitan and Hugo Viana respectively, while Roberto also had to deny Custodio a second five minutes from time.
Benfica threw everything they had at the hosts as the sands of the hourglass began to run out on their Europa League dreams, and they almost snatched the second final spot on 88 when substitute Alan Kardec had a close range effort cleared off the line by Paulao.
And after five long minutes of added time, Braga were confirmed as finalists in what has been an amazing Europa League campaign for the lesser of the three Portugese outfits who made the final four.